Today, I have the honor of posting an article from a guest author. The author of this piece is none other than my 90 year old father, Sydney Garner. As you all know, unless you have been sleeping under a rock, this year marks the 70th anniversary of WWII D-Day, the invasion of Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944.
My father was serving as a Navy Signalman on board an LCT that landed at Utah Beach. An LCT (Landing Craft, Tank) was a small vessel designed as an amphibious assault ship for landing tanks on beachheads. These LCT’s were transported across the ocean on larger ships known as LST’s (Landing Ship, Tank).
My Dad belongs to an association of servicemen that served on the LCT’s during WWII. Their numbers are sadly dwindling. Their service to our country is immeasurable. My Dad’s article was chosen for publication in the association’s quarterly newsletter commemorating the event. It is his recollection of his experiences during the weeks and days leading up to the largest amphibious landing the world has ever seen.
I am very proud of my Dad. He is a remarkable man in so many ways. He is not a writer, this is only the 2nd article he has ever written. I think he has done an outstanding job and it is a firsthand account of one of the most significant battles in history. His recall of the places and events that happened over 70 years ago is amazing to me.
I hope you enjoy his story.
Beachhead and Beyond
by Sydney Garner
The night when we left Halifax, Nova Scotia, it was very cold and snowing. Our LCT 594 was lashed to the upper deck of LST 283. We joined the convoy and began a long, rough winter crossing of the North Atlantic.
LST’s have a flat bottom and in a rough sea, they rock and roll a lot. After many days, we arrived at Milford Haven in Wales, south coast of England. There unloaded a group of coast artillery men that we had brought aboard at our earlier stop at Norfolk, VA.
The next day, we left for Falmouth where we slipped our LCT from the deck of the LST at the mouth of the Fal River. We spent two or three weeks in Falmouth getting our craft ready for duty, then we moved up to Dartmouth where we joined the rest of our flotilla. While there, we spent time doing various exercises out in the English Channel. Sometimes, we spent time up the river from Plymouth at a small town called Saltash. Mostly, we were killing time waiting for the invasion plans to be made final.
When the DD tanks (Double Duty) were loaded aboard, we proceeded to a cove with a sandy beach and a village named Slappton Sands. Since those tanks were considered to be top secret, the residents of the community were ordered to leave their homes while we conducted practice landings of these tanks. After these exercises, we knew that the invasion was on a short string.
A few days later, a couple of army officers came aboard and explained what we were going to do and then told us that we were, as of now, restricted to our ship. The tanks with their crews were brought aboard and the tanks were covered with camouflage netting. A couple of days later, we were underway to Weymouth where we joined several more LCT’s. We began a crossing of the English Channel to the coast of Normandy.
Due to foul weather, we were called back to Weymouth. The next night, as the weather improved, we began again to cross the channel. This time for real. It was June 5th, 1944.
Overnight, the seas made it a rough, bumpy night. As we came near to the landing sites, we put on clothing that was treated to protect us from poison gas if the Germans might use it as a last resort, but thankfully, it was not used.
As we neared Utah Beach, our guide, a small British patrol boat, struck a mine. That caused us to miss the designated beach for almost a mile. We proceeded to the beach, when LCT 593 stuck a huge mine. I was told that no one, neither army nor navy, survived.
The sea was too rough to launch the tanks at sea, as the plan was to have the tanks swim ashore and surprise the German defenders and smash the sea wall to aid the infantry as they came ashore. We were required to bring the tanks close to the beach.
While the tanks were being discharged, a German pill box with an 88 mm cannon, began to fire at the oncoming landing crafts. An LCT equipped with rockets began to fire over our heads, making us anxious to get away from the beach.
We, along with the five other tank carrying LCT’s, withdrew and began to proceed to the anchorage where the cargo ships were waiting to be unloaded. Then LCT 596 stuck a mine. I never knew about survivors.
We proceeded out to the anchorage where the cargo ships were at anchor and began to unload them and bring the material to the beach.
On the second day, a lone German plane made a strafing run down the beach. One of the rounds struck our catwalk, creating shrapnel that struck one of our men, giving him a serious injury. He was sent to England for hospital treatment. He was returned to us a few weeks later, hale and hearty.
A few days after the invasion was secured, decommissioned ships were towed across the channel and sunk off shore to create a breakwater and safe haven for small craft as protection from strong channel storms. A few days later, a very strong storm developed. We were late getting off the beach, and by the time we reached the breakwater, (called Mullberry), there was no room for us. We moved away from the breakwater and dropped anchor. As the storm grew stronger, we decided the anchor would hold and ate our evening meal and turned in for the night.
The watch was set, and I drew the mid watch (12:00 – 04:00). Out of nowhere another LCT appeared. There was a call from them for me to take their line so as to tie up to us. I replied that we could not hold them and refused to take their line. One of their crewmen jumped from their bow over to our bow and began to secure his line to ours. A huge wave hit our stern, and our anchor cable, with the strain of the other ship, caused us to lose our anchor.
I woke the skipper and informed him that we had lost our anchor and were adrift. By the time that the crew was awake, and the skipper was on the bridge, we had drifted into a small water barge. As we pulled away from the barge, someone using a flashlight began to signal SOS. We had our ship under control by then and we returned to the barge and 4 or 5 men scrambled aboard our ship just before the barge sank. Those men were Norwegian sailors who managed to get to England before the Germans occupied Norway.
Months earlier, we had built a wooden food locker above the galley to store mostly canned goods. Before the storm struck, the cook had brought down from the locker, a case of Spam and another of canned spinach. There was other food stored in the galley: flour, sugar, coffee and the like. Sometimes we had fresh meat in the refrigerator.
During the storm, a giant wave broke over the galley and took away our food locker. Our Norwegian guests and our crew ate a lot of Spam and spinach. They thanked us profusely when a couple of days later, we turned them over to the British.
There were times when we would have a cargo that required us to dry out (let the tide recede so that the ship is on a dry beach). Then we would have a few hours of down time. My buddy and I would take advantage of the free time to rove the countryside. On occasion, we would hitch a ride with a driver who could assure us that he would be returning to the beach.
Once we caught a ride with a driver who assured us that he would be coming back to the beach for another load. We rode for what seemed like a couple of hours and arrived at an apple orchard where a large congregation of combat soldiers were eating their lunch. Our driver gave us a box of K rations and while we were eating and conversing with the soldiers, an army officer came by and he was astonished to find two swabbies among his troops. Our driver explained that he had brought us from the beach and would return us there. The officer ordered us to leave ‘as of now’. Later after the battle for St. Lo, we realized that we had been near to the front lines. That battle was a victory for our troops and opened the route to Paris.
In late August, we had used all of our spare parts and could no longer repair our engines or generators. Our compass was no longer reliable. We had one out of three engines in use.
Along with three other LCT’s in our situation, we departed Utah Beach for Dartmouth for repairs. We were the last in a column of four and continued to fall further behind. With night coming on, we soon found ourselves alone. About an hour after darkness, a boat out of nowhere challenged with a red signal lamp. Though I was a signalman, I could not read their signal. They came closer and hit us with a flood light for a second or two, then veered away and were gone.
Sometime later a large vessel came out of the dark and challenged us for our identity using a megaphone. We made ourselves clear and asked who they might be. That ship was a British corvet. We advised them of our situation. We asked for our position and a heading to Dartmouth. They gave us our position and put us on a heading saying we should see land by day light. Day light came and all that we could see was sea and sky.
An hour or so later, we saw a small vessel, but did not know the nationality. We had aboard a battery powered signal lamp (Aldis Lamp) and I used this lamp to signal the small vessel and they replied in English. I asked for our position and was informed that Portland was to our port side. We turned in that direction and after several anxious minutes, we could see land. Later we could see the entrance to Portsmouth Harbor. They gave us permission to enter and told us where we should tie up.
The next day, with a small ship escort, we finally arrived in Dartmouth. The LCT’s that we had left with from Utah Beach were glad to see us.
A week later, we were repaired and returned to Utah where we resumed our routine of unloading ships until the beaches were closed in October.
We returned to England where we had a lot of down time. We were given some leave and the day after Christmas with our LCT lashed down to LST 524, we took the South Atlantic route to the USA…New York. We were given 30 days leave. I reported back to Pier 92, N.Y. and was assigned to another crew going to the Pacific, and the invasion of Okinawa.